assorted books

My Favorite Books of 2021

I read somewhere that the average CEO reads 52 books per year.

No but actually how? My wife and I can barely find enough time to unload the dishwasher. How in the world do the CEOs of billion dollar companies find the time to finish one book a week?

While I’m skeptical about whether this factoid is even true, there’s obvious value in being well read. So in 2021, rather than resolving to read one book every seven days, I set a more modest goal: read one hour each day. Still a stretch, but doable. I didn’t hit my goal each day. But the intention behind my goal had it’s intended effect. I read 18 books this year — far more reading than I’ve done since graduating law school.

I know I’m not the only one who enjoys a good book. So I decided to share my favorites from 2021, and a few that I’m looking forward to reading in 2022. Let me know your thoughts on any of the books mentioned, and to share your favorite books of 2021 in the comments below.

My Favorite Books of 2021

Honorable Mention: Black Count, by Tom Reiss

I’ve never read the Count of Monte Cristo, but I knew from watching Django: Unchained about 10 times that the author was a Black Frenchmen named Alexandre Dumas. When I came across this book about his father, the real life Count of Monte Cristo, I was immediately intrigued.

In short, the book is a biographical account of the life of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Dumas was a General and hero of the French Revolution, who was born into enslavement in Haiti in the mid 16th century. Through amazing feats of valor and courage he rose through the French military, and became a hero of the French Revolution. Naturally, the powers that be refused to let this Black man be great. After being imprisoned in an Italian dungeon for two years under obscure circumstances, he returns to a Napoleon era France that has abandoned the principles of the French Revolution. New laws prohibit Black Frenchmen and women from fully participating in public life. Dumas, weakened by his imprisonment, falls ill and dies shortly thereafter.

I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history. Dumas’ story is awe inspiring. The simple fact that he became a general and French national hero at a time when Black skin was synonymous with bondage makes this book worth a read. The author tells Dumas’ story with impressive detail, which I was both enjoyable and annoyable. On one hand, the detail transports you to a different time and place by giving the reader a full understanding of what is happening not only in Dumas’ life, but throughout the world. On the other hand, at times it felt like the level of detail slowed down the story and took away from some of the excitement. Overall, it was an interesting and insightful read.

🥉 The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins

An autobiographical account of one man’s career as an engineering consultant.

Sounds riveting right?

Even though this book is written by an average Joe, it reads like a CIA thriller. In telling his story, Perkins reveals how underdeveloped nations are convinced to accept economic aid for development projects designed to serve corporate interests. The fact that the truthfulness of Perkins claims have been questioned or outright denied by others who have worked in high levels of government should tell you everything you need to know about how explosive his claims are.

This was one of those books I couldn’t put down. I tend to read multiple books at a time, but when I started reading this one I put the others on the shelf. Perkins tells a great story. What I like most is how he tells his story, while using real events to illustrate the real world consequences. For example, he talks about trying to convince a world leader to accept development aid, knowing that the world leader refused he would probably become the victim of an “accident.” The leader refused to accept the aid. Soon after, he died in a plane crash. It’s stories like this that give the book a clandestine feel.

🥈 Beyond Reason, by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro

If you can’t tell by now, I prefer non-fiction to fiction. In particular, I enjoy books that give me with a new perspective on everyday experiences. Beyond Reason is one of those books.

Beyond Reason provides a framework for navigating emotionally charged negotiations. The book lays out five concerns that people have during negotiations that can cause strong emotions: appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status and role. The book suggests that by understanding these concerns and making sure they are met, we can decrease the likelihood that strong negative emotions will get in the way of successful collaboration.

One of the things I liked about this book is that even though it was written by experts, it is accessible. The concepts are practical and you don’t need a PhD to understand what they’re saying. But my favorite thing about this book is that it provides insight that you can begin to apply in your everyday interactions.

For example, I started reading this book around the time my wife’s maternity leave ended. We hadn’t yet figured out a child care situation for our son, so she went back to work and I was working from home while caring for my son. This presented unforeseen emotional challenges for both of us. I started to feel a sense of unfulfillment because I had less time to spend on my work than I had anticipated. Meanwhile, my wife was feeling guilt about spending so much time at work and not being the primary caretaker. Both of us experienced some anxiety because we had desires to play traditional roles in our family that weren’t realistic, which was causing some cognitive dissonance.

So even though the context of the book is negotiation, it has insight that applies to everyday interactions. That’s what I appreciated the most about it.

🥇 The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman

Good books give you a new perspective on the world you know. The best books open your eyes to new worlds all together. The Design of Everyday Things will forever be an all-time favorite for me because it opened my eyes to the world of design.

The Design of Everyday Things is a “starter kit for good design.” Using plenty of real world examples, it illustrates the principles of good design. If you’re new to the concept of design, this book will open your eyes to the little pieces of intentional design that you never knew were all around you. For example, if you come to a door with a horizontal bar across it, should you push or pull it? How do you know? And how do you feel when you go to push that door and it doesn’t open? Probably like “WTF?” That’s design. And it is a part of everything we interact with.

My main takeaway from the book was that good design solves problems by meeting people where they are. This is a great lesson for entrepreneurs in particular. In order to build a successful business, you must offer a product or service that solves problems for people. But, it doesn’t matter how great the solution if it is not accessible. The way you market and deliver your services also has to be designed with your customers in mind. Meet people where they are, with a brilliant solution for their problems, and the rest will take care of itself.

What I’m Excited to Read in 2022

Now that I’ve rediscovered a love for reading that I never really had before and Barnes and Noble blessed us with 50% off all hardcover books right after Christmas, I’ve got a bookshelf full of books that I’m excited to read next. Here’s a handful of them.

  • The One Page Marketing Plan – Allan Dib
  • Capital and Ideology – Thomas Picketty
  • How To – Michael Beriut
  • Let the Circle Be Unbroken – Marimba Ani
  • Discipline Equals Freedom – Jocko Willink
  • Empire of Cotton – Sven Beckert
  • Nudge – Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler

Here’s to reading more in 2022 than we did in 2021!